Health & Science Library Camp #HASLibCamp


About a month ago I attended HASLibcamp at CityLIS, which was a library camp (informal unconference style event) focused on health & science aspects of libraries, librarianship and knowledge management.

I pitched a session on how public libraries can support health and I also attended 3 other sessions during the day. There was a mix of people attending – including librarians in the health sector; those who supported academic health courses; private and public sector; and information and library students. I have to say I was surprised that I was the only representative from public libraries there, especially as one of the Society of Chief Librarian “Universal offers” in public libraries is focused on health.

I attended 3 sessions and pitched a session myself on how public libraries support health.

The first session I attended was focused on health apps and stemmed from an app swap session that happens regularly at St George’s Medical School (London). During the session people discussed the type of health apps that were available; the emergence of related technology such as fit-bits; how health apps can be useful for people to understand and take control of their own health literacy. Many of these apps rely on recording users data, so the discussion also covered concerns around data privacy for health apps; possible use of health data for things you don’t want it to be used for eg health insurance; lack of governance on medical data privacy in apps; and how we (as information professionals) could play a role in educating users about data privacy.

From a public libraries & techy perspective I’m keen to promote health apps on health awareness days that come from reputable providers. eg mental health; living healthier. But the difficulty for me is identifying those apps.

The next session I attended focused on Wikipedia and Wikimedia editing. It was interesting to hear about the background to both resources; how they link together; how they link to other resources (for example The British Library is busy digitising images from out of copyright materials, & detailed subject tagging of the resources on Flickr for them is sometimes created by Wikipedians); and the role of a Wikipedian in residence as someone who is able to focus on specific subject areas for an organisation.

The final session I attended focused on an initiative at Imperial College to archive software that has been created as the result of research projects. It covered questions such as… How can this software be identified? How can it be archived, given that hardware, operating systems and platforms are constantly changing, with some now obsolete? Could virtual machines and emulators be used to run the software? What are the licensing requirements for archiving the software and the platforms they run on, especially if the software produced as the result of a research project is released as a commercial project?

I also mentioned that I pitched a session on how public libraries could support health initiatives. My intention was that I was keen to find out more about how public libraries could do this, as well as sharing some thoughts about areas I knew about. This was a very useful discussion, with around 10 other people in attendance from a variety of health backgrounds. I spoke about the sort of things my library service is involved in including the Society of Chief Librarians health offer; Books on prescription; mental health support; provision of a reminiscence collection; accessible computers and technology; services for those unable to visit the library; dementia awareness training for library staff as part of a bigger “Dementia Friendly Surrey” County Council campaign; the privacy benefits of self-service issue/return; alternative versions of reading materials inc large print & audio books, and Penfriend; creative writing workshops for survivors of domestic abuse; partnership working with local hospitals, health organisations and national organisations inc signposting to reputable healthcare information; producing health related reading lists linked to our catalogue.

Other areas that were discussed were the blocking of sites in public libraries that genuinely provide helpful health related information; providing open access to medical information in public libraries and the best way to do this; the development of sign-posting to further health information; the value of signposting to information on ageing in general; the value of health information professionals coming into public libraries to train staff on signposting.

I have to say that I found this session useful, but at the same time I felt like I didn’t have many of the answers to questions that others attending were asking me about. My day-to-day focus isn’t health in public libraries; it’s tech and digital, and in this instance, I could only really give detailed answers about where tech and digital is used to support health initiatives in public libraries. Hopefully, if this event is run again there will be other representatives from public libraries attending who are better placed to answer the questions I couldn’t.

I thought it was a really useful and interesting event, and I can see the benefit of having other library camps with a focus on specific subjects like this. Well done to all who helped organise it and those who were involved in the session discussions on the day.

If you want to read about other sessions run during the event take a look at this page on the HASLibCamp site.

The interactive Bard & future writing jams


As I mentioned previously on this blog, in April I decided to run Bard Jam – a Shakespeare themed game jam with a focus on text based games. I decided to go for the Shakespeare theme, as Read Watch Play, the online reading discussion my library service is partnered with, had a Shakespeare theme (#bardread) during April. I decided to focus on the written word to try and draw closer links to the reading, writing, literacy aspects of libraries.

Initially I billed it as an interactive fiction game jam, but then decided that I wanted to give entrants the scope to create and submit any type of text based game – the word was important, but not necessarily the way it was presented. So, this could include visual novels and other text adventures with images as well. I wanted to give people as much freedom to experiment with text as they wanted. So, even though the majority of submissions were interactive fiction, a visual novel and a visual (but text heavy) adventure were also submitted. Bard Jam was open to anyone at all in the world to enter, including those who might never have tried producing a text based game before. Like the interactive fiction workshops I’ve run I’m keen to show creative writers that interactive fiction is a genre they should take a look at. And I’m aware of at least one entrant who created their first game for the jam, which I was very pleased about.

bardjam banner

Overall 13 people signed up to join the jam, but in the end only 5 other people (besides myself) submitted a finished entry. I say “only”, but I’m happy that it encouraged more than just myself to participate and I think it’s something that can be built on. In hindsight, if I’d promoted the game jam on various interactive fiction and text adventure forums to promote it more widely there may have been more entries. I can honestly say I enjoyed playing all of the submissions, and they were so wide ranging in content, style and length. The submissions included a quiz hosted by a sharp-tongued Stephen Fry; A high school play rehearsal about teen friendships; Shakespeare’s lover & real writer of his plays; the boatswain from The Tempest; and a paranormal investigative newspaper. I’ve already posted a fuller run of the entries down here. If you get a chance please try the Bard Jam games out. They’re mostly browser based, and the majority are pretty short – about 10/15 minutes.

The future…

Following on from Bard jam I feel this idea has legs, and I’m keen to run themed online text based game jams focused on authors and/or their works as a regular thing – and they would be open to everyone again to participate. One idea I had for next year is an Arthur C Clarke game jam. I also think there’s scope for libraries to get involved in this as well – for example, encouraging creative writing groups that meet in their libraries to try out interactive fiction, and give them a specific focus for trying out ideas. Ideally the entry level would be accessible for many people including children. I’m still unsure about whether entries should be given scores – in this jam I avoided scoring, but I don’t know if entrants want to be rated on what they’ve created or not. I’m easy either way – if the jam is of interest to me I’ll just submit something whether it’s being judged or not.

Anyway, if anyone else thinks this is a good idea let me know.

#BardJam – a literary game jam writing challenge for April


Following on from last year’s Alice Jam 150 (an Alice in Wonderland themed game jam) I was itching to run another online game jam. So, the Shakespeare themed Bard Jam has been set up and will run throughout April. As Read Watch Play online book discussion theme for April is #BardRead and because The British Library and Game City also have a theme of Shakespeare for their Off The Map competition I thought it would be a nice idea to tie a writing related jam into other related things running at the same time. The game jam this time is focused solely on text based games, and can include interactive fiction, text adventures and any other text based digital story. Full details of #BardJam can be found here.

Geek Week at the Library


We’ve just finished a great week of events at Guildford Library under the banner of Surrey Geek Week. It tied in with British Science Week and also Innovate Guildford festival. It included events for children and adults, including robotics workshops, programmable Lego, learning sessions, Dungeons and Dragons, a gaming afternoon, a Raspberry pi jam, and a gamification talk. It’s the first time we’ve run it and it was a great opportunity to try things out to see what would work and to build links with different groups and individuals in the local community. Many of the events were a success, with sold out sessions. I was responsible for organising the robotics workshop (big thanks to Carlos and his Maker Cart, who was also key in the January Maker Day), the Gaming Day (big thanks to the staff who worked on a Sunday and also local gaming groups who came along with board games and retro consoles), and the Maplin Meccanoid drop-in (big thanks to Maplin – a couple of robots in the library got a lot of attention).

During the week we’ve made plenty of contacts with groups interested in what we are trying to do in the library service in regard to digital services and making. eg 3D printing, robotics, electronics, and anything techy based that give people the opportunity to create.
It was a fun week, even though I do generally wear my anxious Wurzel Gummidge style “will it go okay, will anyone turn up and will they enjoy it?” head on when I’m organising events. Well, they did turn up and going by the smiles and positive feedback they did enjoy it, so now I can put on my Wurzel Gummidge “happy head”.
A concentrated week of events and related activities was a bit of a learning experience, but I think the whole team did a great job of organising, promoting, and making sure it all ran well.

Let’s Make & Inspire: Techy Creation in Libraries


My library service is currently exploring the idea of making in libraries – specifically on the technological side of things – 3D printing, robotics, electronics, programming/coding.

We’ve run a couple of code clubs and have plans to run more. As well as this we are running our first Maker Day event this coming Saturday, with the help of Carlos Iszak, who I met at the City Mash event last summer. Carlos will be coming in with his Maker Cart kit and people will get the chance to try out 3D printing, paper cutting technology, robotics and electronics. We are also encouraging those attending to share ideas they have about making with technology, things they’ve made and their experiences around digital making in general. I’m really excited about this event and I’ll be helping out with the robotics and electronics side of things – Arduino, Makey Makey, Littlebits. It’s a hands-on event and we want to give people the chance to explore these new technologies for themselves.

The library service long term ambitions are to host a makerspace: “a place where people can meet to collaborate, create, learn, and innovate, using similar technologies to those available during our day of making.”

As well as this Maker Day event there are also 2 other events related to makerspaces in public libraries happening over the next couple of months in London that are worth attending if you’re working in libraries and want to find out more about makerspaces.

Making Library Makers: an intro (16th Feb, evening) – Carlos is also involved in this.

Code Green Digital Making & Learning Showcase (1st March, all day)

And finally, I wanted to share one of my favourite maker stories – one that’s especially relevant to libraries too. 14 year old William Kamkwamba’s electricity generating windmill in Malawi.



My Library By Right petition


CILIP recently launched a new campaign (My Library By Right) in defence of public libraries. Full details of the campaign can be found on CILIP’s site, including details of how you can get support it. One of the key and very easy things you can do is sign the petition calling for MP John Whittingdale (current Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) to “act now to protect my statutory rights to a quality public library service”, and also ask family and friends to sign it too. If you need to persuade them of the value of public libraries try this.


Telling tales: Digital story workshops


Yesterday I ran my last workshop of the year focusing on using digital tools for storytelling. In this case it was a family-friendly game making workshop with an Alice in Wonderland theme. It tied in with the Pocket Code and Scratch #AliceGameJam that begins tomorrow. My intention was to introduce attendees to Pocket Code as a tool that can be used to easily create interactive programs, stories and games and also encourage those attending to get involved in the game jam. Only a few people attended, but that did make it easier to run the session and help those that were there, and I received positive feedback at the end of the event.

I also ran a couple of sessions recently about creating interactive fiction using a piece of software called Inklewriter. I wanted to target creative writers who were interested in doing something new with their writing. That said, future Inklewriter sessions could focus on other topics eg local history, or personal biographies.

Both sessions were hands-on and gave those attending the chance to find out about the software and spend time creating something new with it.

If anyone is interested in finding out how I ran the sessions and the notes/handouts I used, please feel free to get in touch.